Why Thieves Will Continue to Steal Mobile Phones

By: Absolute Editorial Team | 6/18/2013

There has been a lot of talk this week on mobile theft and how the cell phone industry should step up to prevent it. New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón held a Smartphone Summit and launched the Secure Our Smartphones (S.O.S.) Initiative demanding that cell phone makers create a "kill switch" in all smartphones. While we commend this effort, and are ourselves a part of it through our partnership with Samsung, we need to all realize that mobile crime can not simply be "fixed with a technological solution," as District Attorney George Gascón suggests.

As we discussed earlier, the industry as a whole needs to move beyond just a kill switch in attempting to reduce mobile theft. One of the areas we need to address in mobile theft is the understanding of the motivations behind the crime and how a "kill switch" may not be enough to deter thieves.

A "Kill Switch" Won't Deter Thieves Because...

  • Criminals follow a 'steal now, investigate later' mindset, so criminals are likely to attack and hope the device is saleable after
  • Not all consumers will upgrade to the new operating systems / devices that support "kill switch" features, so thieves will continue to take their chances when grabbing devices
  • It's probable that all "kill switch" features will be opt-in / paid not mandatory, so thieves will hope their victims have unprotected devices
  • Thieves may increase the violence of the crime in order to extract the unlock pass codes while stealing devices
  • Phones that are "bricked" (that have been shut down with a "kill switch") will still have resale value for parts - touch screens, batteries, etc
  • The majority of robberies are not just for phones, they also include wallets and other valuables. Though a smartphone can make you a target for theft, it is not always the only thing stolen
  • The crime is easy to commit - it's easy to grab a smartphone from your hand and run off; easier thank picking your pocket or snatching your purse.

Mobile crime is a complex global problem with no single solution that will suddenly put a stop to all. The "kill switch" is a good first step in addressing the issue, but alone it is not enough to deter criminals from committing these crimes. Rather than pushing for a kill-switch based solution, we suggest a best-practice approach to mobile theft. Absolute Software recently partnered with Samsung to create both an enterprise and consumer solution that can not only lock down a lost device but also aid in theft recovery and post-theft investigation. This includes a final kill switch feature when all other options have been exhausted.

"In situations where the device owner is assaulted and injured in the commission of the crime, it’s important that law enforcement have the means to investigate and potentially catch the perpetrator.  Absolute persistence technology remains with a device regardless if the unauthorized user wipes it clean to factory settings. This connection allows Absolute to deploy a forensic toolkit that is used to collect evidence which is then provided to law enforcement in support of their investigation. None of this work would be possible if a kill switch was implemented and the device was deactivated." - John Livingston, Absolute Software CEO

Learn more about Absolute's involvement in ending mobile theft here.

Image credit: Sean Nguyen

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